Since the 1960s, the porcelain manufacturer Royal Copenhagen has invited a wide range of people to offer their interpretations of the ideal Christmas dinner table, using the famous Danish porcelain as a starting point. Previous years have seen royalty, comedians, actors and creatives participate, and this year members of the Royal Ballet were invited to be the tables’ co-creators.
The six tables, bedecked as imagined Christmas realms, will remain on display on the top floor of Royal Copenhagen’s flagship store on Amagertorv until the end of December. This year’s decorators include principal dancers Alban Lendorf and Ida Praetorius, soloists Andreas Kaas and Femke Mølbach Slot, former principal dancer Kristoffer Sakurai, as well as former dancer and leader of the ballet school, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter.
Royal Copenhagen’s creative director Niels Bastrup observed the natural ties between Royal Copenhagen and the Royal Ballet. “We are two very well-established institutions in the Danish cultural landscape, and we both have a strong sense of values, where craftsmanship and precision are focal points,” he said.
And it’s this idea of craftsmanship and precision that becomes apparent as soon as you see the tables. Immaculately presented, each appears like a scene in a film, caught mid-take. Between them, the tables reflect on family, friends and community, and capture the tiny facets of what Christmas meals are about. It’s incredibly deft storytelling from Royal Copenhagen, creating an homage to Christmas spirit – past and future – rather than a shrine to consumerism.
Kaas’ table is inspired by his own apartment, and Praetorius’ is set up as if a gathering of friends has come together after a show. Music plays and candles burn at Femke Mølbach Slot’s table, as though someone is about to walk right in to plate the goose. It’s on the brink of being filled with life, much like a set on the Royal Theatre stage.
Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s table is an enchanting construction, built around the Nutcracker fairy tale, with a beautifully impractical floor made of walnut shells. Femke Mølbach Slot has designed a space for a dream ‘date night’ with her partner. It’s romance to excess, with a grand piano, oysters, furs and diamonds, and jazz tinkling away in the background.
Kristoffer Sakurai’s clean and minimalist table reaches into fantasy as he takes reference from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, ‘La Dame aux Camélias’. The name tags reveal a table laid for his husband, his deceased father, ballet master Henning Kronstam, and Sakurai’s former ballet coach and friend Ingrid Glindeman – all influential figures in his life. It’s touching and bittersweet to look at a table so specific and full, laid for a party of people that cannot sit at it.
Despite being practical objects, laden with items you can buy, the tables require a suspension of disbelief, much like going to the theatre. Here, we willingly enter the illusion of sitting at the Nutcracker’s table, where the character leaves the ballet and enters the dining room. Impossible schedules are cleared and places can be set for those we cannot have with us at Christmas.
And in that very idea, there’s a neat parallel with ballet and its incandescently beautiful façade. Ballet is graceful and considered, and these tables are poised, neat and tidy. But in both, there is also a sense of messiness beneath the surface. While Christmas dinners are mythologised as perfectly joyful familial occasions with glistening turkey and fancy cutlery, they can also be incredibly fraught. The roast potatoes are overcooked, someone doesn’t like their present, babies get tired, relatives get a bit too drunk – it is often impossible for Christmas day to live up to the fantasy.
Ballet can be messy too. In the middle of the six displays, there is a table called The Flipside, created by Alban Lendorf, a graduate of the Royal Ballet School and now principal dancer at both the American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet.
“We want to shock the senses and challenge traditions by twisting reality and showing the other side of perfection. The result is a deconstructed Christmas setting,” he says.
He collaborated with four of his best friends to create a dystopia in the midst of the fantasies. It’s a raw and even violent scene. The ‘Full Lace’ service lies unglazed and smashed on the floor, the iconic floral swirls of Royal Copenhagen are graffitied across the walls, a marble tabletop is cracked atop a gnarled tree stump, and a ballet barre is harpooned across the room.
In harsh handwritten capitals, Lendorf has scrawled a poem on the wall that describes a morning rehearsal where the dancers come together, ‘sparkling and suffering…still wheezing for the flames’.
For its audience, ballet has an almost magical appeal. But the transient beauty that we see on stage is the product of thousands of hours of training and aching and wheezing. It’s an unrelenting art form, fixated on fashioning the effortless. We do not see the ropes behind the stage, the rapid costume changes, the bunions and the bruises. Beauty is the product, but it’s not necessarily the process.
Similarly, the delight of Christmas – in the familial rather than the religious sense – harkens back to childhood, when we saw the product but never the process. The turkey was never a fleshy, gut-filled thing on the counter to be wrestled into the oven six hours before dinner, it just appeared, crispy and hot. Gifts materialised overnight and family members appeared from nowhere. There was no logistical nightmare of train bookings or careful table coordination of those who do and do not get on. It simply happened.
At Royal Copenhagen, we can willingly buy into the effortless fantasy. The tables are laid for everyone – the fictional characters, the matching crockery and the elegant music. It’s a nostalgic fantasy made real, and it really is en pointe. M